The Packers converted on 8-of-13 third-down opportunities (61.5 percent) on Sunday, their second-best mark of the season behind only a 10-of-15 performance (66.7 percent) vs. Dallas in Week 9.
“To win week-in and week-out, you’ve got to have the combination of run and pass,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “That was our plan obviously coming in here today; we have confidence in the third-and-five, -six, -seven range with our pass protection.
“We feel that is a strength of what we do, to be able to handle multi-scheme pressure schemes like Philadelphia has and the ability to keep your defense off the field, especially playing against an offense like that. Our plan was to come in here and try to establish the run, play in favorable down-and-distance, have the patience and take our shots when we can."
This season the Eagles placed their opponents in third-and-10-plus more than a third of the time, but on Sunday, the Packers were in those situations just twice (15.4 percent). On nine of the third downs, Green Bay needed 5 yards or less.
“It helped us a lot,” said wide receiver Donald Driver, who had two third-down receptions on the Packers’ third-quarter touchdown drive, including a 20-yard grab on a third-and-10. “All week long we talk about how we want to stay out of that third-and-long situation because those are hard to convert. When you can convert on first and second down and make big plays on those downs, it makes it easy to convert those third-and-2s.”
The Packers had 32 rushing attempts against the Eagles, the seventh time this season they have had 30-plus attempts. It was only the fifth time this season that the Packers had more rushing attempts than they did passing ones, with rookie James Starks leading the way with a franchise rookie-record 123 yards on 23 carries (5.9 avg.).
“I thought we might have a few more passing attempts, but the way James was running, we just stuck with it,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Another area the Packers excelled in on Sunday was inside the 20 as they scored touchdowns on all three chances. Philadelphia finished the regular season dead last in red-zone defense, allowing its opponents to get into the end zone on 76.7 percent of trips inside the 20, the worst mark by an NFL team since 1995 according to STATS. All three of Green Bay’s touchdown drives were at least 10 plays and ate up 5:30 or more.
“We cashed in on our opportunities in the red zone, 3-for-3,” Rodgers said. “That’s what we were looking for. When we break down a game and talk about our goals, it’s being good on third down, being good in the red zone, and not turning the ball over. I had a turnover tonight, but the other couple we did a good job at.”
The Packers’ postseason road started where their season began, and the next stop will be another familiar one.
Green Bay won for the second time this season at Lincoln Financial Field as they became the first team to do so since the stadium opened in 2003. Now the Packers turn their attention to an Atlanta team they lost to on the road in Week 12, a 20-17 defeat that ended with a 47-yard Matt Bryant field goal in the closing seconds.
“Really we felt like we left some football on the field that game,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “There were some stops we could have made all throughout that game defensively that we didn’t make a stop and get off the field in third-down situations.
“The offense was in the red zone a few times, fumbled one time and gave them the ball. They were able to go down and score before halftime. So we felt like we left some football out there on the field and this time around that won’t happen.”
The Falcons were 7-1 at the Georgia Dome this season, their lone defeat coming to New Orleans in Week 15 on the way to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Atlanta’s home record of 20-4 (.833) since 2008 is the best in the conference and No. 2 in the NFL behind only New England (21-3, .875).
“It’s a tough place to play,” Rodgers said. “Matt (Ryan, Atlanta's quarterback) has been excellent playing there and won a ton of games. I think he has only lost twice in his time there. It’s a tough environment, very loud. They are a very good team, very well-coached on both sides of the ball.
“Obviously that is one that we were pretty disappointed about. We were on a little bit of a roll there. I fumbled inside the 5 and we lost by three points. That was one we definitely were hoping we would get a chance to get back.”
It is the first time since 2003 that the Packers have played playoff games against two teams that they also met in the regular season. That year, Green Bay faced Philadelphia and Seattle twice. This will be just the second time in franchise history that the Packers have played road contests against two teams in the regular season and postseason, with the only other instance coming in 1993 when Green Bay played at Detroit and Dallas.
Quite a start
Rodgers posted an impressive playoff debut last season, setting or tying franchise postseason records for passing yards (423), touchdowns (four), and completions (28) in the Packers’ 51-45 overtime loss at Arizona. He added to his personal playoff success by throwing three touchdown passes and no interceptions on Sunday at Philadelphia.
With seven touchdown passes in his first two playoff starts, Rodgers set an NFL playoff record, topping the mark of six touchdowns held by five other quarterbacks. The last NFL signal-caller to post six touchdowns in his first two postseason starts was New Orleans’ Aaron Brooks in 2000-01 when McCarthy was the Saints’ offensive coordinator.
Rodgers finished the game with a 122.5 quarterback rating, the fifth-best mark in franchise postseason history. With his 121.4 passer rating against the Cardinals last season in the playoffs, he now holds two of the top six single-game postseason marks in team annals.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rodgers became the first quarterback in NFL history to post a 120-plus passer rating in each of his first two postseason starts.
Making his return
Green Bay welcomed the return of one of its top pass rushers on Sunday, with defensive end Cullen Jenkins back on the field for the first time since injuring his calf against San Francisco in Week 13.
Jenkins missed the final four games of the season due to the injury, and five on the season, but still posted a career-high seven sacks in just 11 contests, good for No. 2 on the team. On Sunday, Jenkins played primarily in passing situations, often coming in on third down.
“It was rough, the first time back out,” Jenkins said. “I wasn’t near 100 percent, but talking with the doc this week going in, he felt like there wasn’t much of a chance of me re-injuring it.
“Obviously there is a lot of soreness and a lot of stiffness in it, lack of strength, but it was something I felt like I could fight through.”
Jenkins was credited with just one tackle but was part of a front that helped limit the Eagles to just 82 rushing yards on 29 carries (3.9 avg.).
That 3.9-yard average per carry was especially notable considering that the Eagles were the only team in the NFL to average 4 yards per carry in all 16 games this season.
The Packers’ win at Philadelphia was their first postseason victory away from Lambeau Field since the team won in the NFC title game at San Francisco on Jan. 11, 1998.
The 16 points allowed by Green Bay on Sunday were also the fewest given up in a road playoff game since that 1997 NFC Championship. The Packers beat the 49ers, 23-10, at Candlestick Park.
The only injury reported after the game was a bruised knee for Driver that he sustained in the fourth quarter on an 11-yard reception.
“I think the guy hit me on the side of it, but I’m fine,” Driver said.